Belligerent Masculine Posturing Is Ruining Our Political Discourse


Conservatives, particularly conservative men, are often prone to accusing feminists of being overly emotional and injecting gender into issues that are not about gender. This should be understood for what it is: pure projection. It’s the right that is obsessed with gender to the point of abandoning all rationality, insisting on injecting a bunch of gendered anxieties and fantasies into the discourse on various issues and derailing any hope of having rational, evidence-based discussions about them.

Last week, Mother Jones published a piece by Mark Follman about the politics of gun control that demonstrates how true this is. In theory, the issue of gun control shouldn’t be about gender at all. Men and women both can use guns and presumably both have an interest in the self-defense motive that gun manufacturers use to sell their products. The gun industry lobby certainly likes to claim that it’s a gender-free issue, and they even go out of their way to try to highlight female gun enthusiasts. (Though, it’s important to understand the primary objective of groups like the National Rifle Association is to improve profitability for gun manufacturers, and so these efforts are more about trying to get women to buy guns than anything else.) But, as Follman’s reporting shows, the average gun rights enthusiast very much sees the issue as being about gender. Guns are, to be blunt, a way for men who experience high levels of insecurity and anxiety about masculinity to feel powerful and manly.

Unsurprisingly, then, the battle over guns, as experienced on a personal level, is extremely gendered. The same guys who cling to guns to prove their manhood to themselves tend toward extreme levels of misogyny, getting completely bent out of shape particularly over the idea that women might believe they have a right to advocate for better gun control. Follman painstakingly demonstrates how female gun control activists are at the receiving end of unbelievable amounts of abuse and threats from these easily threatened men. Even women who aren’t gun control activists have been subject to abuse from strangers for merely calling the emergency hotline when they saw a gang of men brandishing weapons in public at one of those “open carry” protests and, understandably, were afraid that gang warfare or a mass shooting were about to happen.

Female-focused gun control groups, such as Moms Demand Action, get far more hate from pro-gun people than groups that are seen as less gendered. In fact, one of the most telling details from the Mother Jones story involves the hatred of Moms Demand Action.

In March, a group of [Open Carry Texas members] held a “mad minute” at a firing range, pulverizing a female mannequin with a hail of bullets. They positioned the figure with her hands raised in surrender, naked from the waist up. Afterward, they posed with the bullet-riddled mannequin, her arms blown off and her pants down at her ankles. “Mad minute” is a military expression referring to a burst of rapid fire, and Open Carry Texas members have often referred to Moms Demand Action as “mad moms.”

The fear and loathing on display for outspoken women reminded me of nothing so much as the way the issue of health-care coverage for contraception has been hijacked by men with major, unabashed issues when it comes to sex and gender. While the “official” line from anti-contraception forces is that it’s not about gender so much as abstractions like economics or religious liberty, hostility to insurance coverage for contraception is being sold to the right-wing masses mainly by provoking anxieties about women choosing to have sex on their own terms.

To briefly reiterate some of the most obnoxious examples: Rush Limbaugh demanding that Sandra Fluke provide him pornography if she uses her own insurance to pay for her own contraception; Gary Bauer tying contraception to a “promiscuous coed,” exhibiting dual anxiety about women both having sex on their own terms and getting an education; and saying that using your insurance for contraception makes it “hosurance” or “Floozycare,” and that women who use contraception are “hoeing” themselves out. And just last week, Sean Hannity, while claiming (unconvincingly) not to be opposed to contraception, spent most of his rant emphasizing a belief that contraception is only for women who are having abnormally frequent sexual encounters.

The blunt truth of the matter is that men who have high levels of anxiety about gender and sexuality are extremely good at hijacking policy discussions and turning them away from talk of evidence and societal improvement and toward their own personal issues with gender. Everything becomes about the need to display a nearly comical level of masculinity and to put women in a subservient position. Football players showing understandable emotion at getting drafted? Evidence, somehow, that female power is out of control. Batman driving a hybrid? Clearly, an assault on American manhood. (Never mind that electric engines are quiet, improving stealth abilities.) Hundreds of girls are kidnapped in Nigeria? Watch Laura Ingraham try to make it about how America is supposedly not tough enough.

It’s frustrating in and of itself that so many men suffering from so much anxiety are able to stymie women’s progress on everything from reproductive health access to equal pay. But, as this all shows, the problem of irrational, angry male anxiety reaches far beyond just so-called women’s issues. Defensive masculinity posturing contaminates our ability to have rational discourse on a whole host of topics, from climate change to gun control to health-care reform to, yes, even the Batmobile. Imagine if we spent a week—just a week!—in this country agreeing to have a discussion about the issues without injecting inchoate, irrational fears about threatened masculinity. We’d probably get more done to improve people’s lives in that week than we’ll be able to in years of working through the political system as it currently stands.

Not that this will ever happen. After all, asking anxious men—and the women who support them—to give it a rest with the belligerent hyper-masculine posturing for even a week would, in and of itself, be seen as an attempt to steal their precious manhood away. But a girl can dare to dream.

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  • Rachel Barnes

    I agree with Amanda on this one. It seems as if all of these topics have become about insecurity in a way about gender. If we could have a rational dialogue about these issues especially the gun one and contraception, we could get so much done in a week. Excellent points, I look forward to your next column.

  • fiona64

    Yep. I have often said that I am a right-winger’s worst nightmare: a liberal, pro-choice, pro-equality, Democrat-voting, left-leaning, gun owner with a dead-eye aim … and a belief in sensible gun control.

    • ChrisFunguy79

      Why would they be afraid of you unless you are not able to control you emotion and not irrationally shoot someone with your beloved guns?

      • fiona64

        And ::woosh:: went the point, right over your head.

        I’m not even surprised, sadly enough. Let me help you.

        The point, sweetie, is that I violate a whole slew of right-wing stereotypes *all by myself.*

        • ChrisFunguy79

          I’m sure they care about you.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Don’t try being witty, Chris. You’re not very good at it.

          • fiona64

            Poor widdle 5×5 …

          • ChrisFunguy79

            Poor widdle Fiona, thinking that all the men in the world are against her and that the big, bad GOP cares what she thinks.

          • fiona64

            Thanks for proving my point so well; you couldn’t pour water from a boot if the instructions were written on the heel. Go color while the grown-ups wait for you to be banned yet again.

          • fiona64

            Intelligent, adult, free-thinking women like me scare the crap out of them … just like they do you.

          • Arekushieru

            Funny, considering that YOU’RE the one who feels he has to keep inserting himself into the discussion to tell us how much the GOP does NOT care about us.

          • ChrisFunguy79

            You’re probably correct. I’m sorry sir.

          • Arekushieru

            Seriously, how many times must I tell you that I am NOT a guy? FFS.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Oh he knows. He’s just making an obnoxious ass of himself.

          • ChrisFunguy79

            No need to be snippy sir.

      • lady_black

        You mean like all the “Stand your ground” nuts facing murder charges when they shot someone because they were “scared?”

  • colleen2

    In March, a group of [Open Carry Texas members] held a “mad minute” at a
    firing range, pulverizing a female mannequin with a hail of bullets.
    They positioned the figure with her hands raised in surrender, naked
    from the waist up. Afterward, they posed with the bullet-riddled
    mannequin, her arms blown off and her pants down at her ankles. “Mad
    minute” is a military expression referring to a burst of rapid fire, and
    Open Carry Texas members have often referred to Moms Demand Action as
    “mad moms.”

    Right. These are just normal conservative men expressing their God given manly fantasies. They wouldn’t hurt anyone. Anyone up on the subject recognizes that this is normal conservative white male behavior; they were bonding with each other.

  • conect2u

    Don’t blame MJ or Ms. Marcotte for the NRA’s choice to collaborate and embolden the 2nd Amendment zealots. For 30yrs the NRA worked feverishly to incrementally undermine sensible gun control by wielding legislation that created this new atmosphere of lunacy, for the pro-gun lobby. For the first time in six years, the Senate confirmed a full time Director in 2013 and Congress, for several sessions, prohibit the CDC from any gun related research.
    Gun control advocates aren’t threatening pro-gun groups, spitting or waving weapons at them. Hell, the crazies this month threatened a gun retailer’s plan to carry the ‘smart gun’ the guy went on you-tube and recanted. Too many vitriolic incidences and political machinations for you to pathetically try to spin these encounters as cherry picking. 2nd Amendment zealots, pro-gun lobby, NRA, own this crazy…rational people left that side of the room long ago…Coss you’re full of it, just like the ‘gunnies’ described in both articles.

    • fiona64

      ^^^ This x1000. The NRA under Charlton Heston became the whack-a-doodle lobby that it is now, not the sensible organization to which my dad belonged for decades.

      • conect2u

        I know…Now I’m dating myself, but I remember as a child when the NRA ceased promoting the outdoor/sportsmanship mantra. They splashed onto the political scene w/the idea that white people needed to arm/protect themselves against the Black Panthers, then inner city gangs now the paranoia has metastasized to “fighting for freedom..we’ve got a right to arm ourselves against the government” the message profits ALWAYS from FEAR.

        • fiona64

          And what these nutjobs never seem to get, with their pro-2nd Amendment and pro-military posturing, is that the “government” against which they “need” to arm themselves would consist of the same soldiers they claim to support (who are unlikely to be ordered to fire on their fellow citizens … but I digress). It’s a puzzle …

          • Arekushieru

            It’s not really a digression, Fiona. Especially when one considers that the right to bear arms in your Constitution is apparently limited in some respects, specifically what types of weapons can be handled and by who, which, even more specifically, tends to be that stalwart organization known as the military, itself. Poor, poor NRAs. The pretzel shapes their mental gymnastics puts their grey matter must be SO ‘exhausting’ for them.

          • ChrisFunguy79

            The are multiple NRAs?

          • Arekushieru

            Ugh, are you always this deliberately obtuse?

          • Jennifer Starr

            He doesn’t have anything else but this and extremely childish insults.

          • fiona64

            You’re right. Of course, what the 2nd Amendment zealots always ignore when they cite the right to bear arms is the second part: “a well-regulated militia,” which goes back to the Militia Act of 1792 … which was developed to quell slave rebellions. http://www.constitution.org/mil/mil_act_1792.htm

            A bunch of camo-clad bubbas plinking cans in the woods with their “I need it for deer hunting” AK47s is not a “well-regulated militia.”

  • TheBrett

    It’s kind of funny how this type of hyper-masculine posturing has always had a shrill, defensive element to it no matter how much power the actual person in question has. Instead of giving them confidence and security, it just makes them more paranoid about searching out new “challenges”.

  • the_ellcrys

    Conservatives have made it easy to have negative opinions about them. The sad, ugly truth is that the encounters she describes are the norm, not the exception. I’ve owned firearms, hunted and shot for sport my entire life, and I’m appalled by the behavior and commentary I see from average people at the local range.